Salmon and the Columbia River Treaty

Maybe it’s the diaries of Lewis and Clark, or perhaps it’s Woody Guthrie’s folk song “Roll On, Columbia, Roll On” that makes us think of the Columbia River as a uniquely American waterway, but the river actually begins in the Canadian Rockies. The Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada has managed the river’s flows since 1964, and the time is nearing to reassess that treaty.

Charles Hudson of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) says the 15 tribes of Columbia Basin are very involved in working to reshape the treaty to protect and benefit tribal culture and resources.

Hudson says, “The 15 tribes rarely agree on anything, so the fact they all agree on Columbia River Treaty speaks to its importance.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration are trying to get a recommendation on whether to continue the treaty to the U.S. Department of State by the end of 2013.

Dams in Canada provide flood control for the U.S., and the U.S. gives Canada about $300 million a year in power, according to CRITFC. The year 2024 is the first opportunity to withdraw from the treaty, and 2014 is the deadline for the required 10-year notice to withdraw, Hudson says.

CRITFC says that the treaty “does not consider the needs of fish, a healthy river or the treaty fishing rights and cultural resources that are now fully protected under modern laws.”

The treaty and whether or not it continues affects flood control, dam output, electricity rates, water for irrigation and flows for endangered salmon and steelhead.

Both the U.S. and Canada have dams on the Columbia through the treaty, and though Guthrie’s folk song romanticized dams, their effects on people, the river and its salmon are controversial. Canada and its First Nations people lost almost all Columbia River salmon when the U.S. built the Grand Coulee Dam in 1942. For more information go to

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